Russia is sending two planes to Lebanon to evacuate more than 100 of its citizens from Syria, the Emergencies Ministry said, in the clearest sign yet that Moscow may be preparing for President Bashar al-Assad's possible defeat.
"On orders from the leadership of the Russian Federation, the Emergencies Ministry is sending two airplanes to Beirut (on Tuesday) so that all Russians who want can leave Syria," ministry spokeswoman Irina Rossius said.
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"It is planned that more that 100 Russians will leave Syria (on these planes)," she told Interfax news agency.
It was unclear whether the flights were the beginning of a longer evacuation operation.
Russia has been Assad's main foreign protector during a 22-month uprising against his rule, but a diplomat conceded last month the government had lost territory and the rebels fighting Assad could win the war.
Moscow is also carrying out what has been called the largest naval exercises since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, including off Syria's coast, which analysts say are meant to underscore its interest in the region.
Preparing to fly out its citizens is the clearest signal yet that Moscow believes Assad's fall may be possible, though it has made no indication that it will abandon its position that Assad's exit must not be a precondition for a peace deal.
Moscow leases a naval maintenance and supply facility at the Syrian port of Tartous and has had a large presence of employees from Rosoboronexport, Russia's state arms exporting monopoly.
A number of citizens from Russian companies that also have a presence in Syria still live there too. Russian officials say there are tens of thousands of Russian citizens in Syria, many of them also Russian women married to Syrian men.
Meanwhile, around 5,900 Syrian refugees crossed into Jordan in the last 24 hours, according to border police, the Petra state news agency reported on Tuesday morning.
Around 200,000 Syrians have entered Jordan legally since the start of the revolution and have rented homes or moved in with relatives.
Jordan is concerned about this large influx in light of little assistance provided from the international community to host them.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN-Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi "deep disappointment and anguish" by the continued bloodshed in Syria, the UN press office said.
"They also expressed their consternation about the lack of a unified international posture that could lead to a transition as agreed at Geneva last June and put an end to the desperate suffering of the Syrian people," it said in a statement.
Ban and Brahimi met in New York to discuss Syria. Brahimi has been trying to help Russia and the United States break their deadlock on Syria which has prevented the UN Security Council from taking any meaningful action on the conflict.
Russia and China have vetoed three council resolutions condemning Syria's government over the conflict, and reject the
idea of sanctioning President Bashar al-Assad's government.
Separately, John Ging, a senior official with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, visited the
battled-scarred Syrian city of Homs on Monday, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters.
Ging led a delegation of seven UN humanitarian agencies.
The United Nations had coordinated with both the government and the Syrian opposition for the visit, Nesirky said.
He said the delegation was in Syria to assess humanitarian needs and find ways to improve access to people in need throughout the country. Members of the delegation were shocked by what they saw in Talbiseh and Homs, Nesirky said.